What you need to know from Wednesday’s night action in the OVC:
Lipscomb 79, Tennessee Tech 84
UT Martin 71, Northern Kentucky 56
Valparaiso 72, Eastern Kentucky 66
Southern Illinois 79, SIUE 67
Ball State 54, Eastern Illinois 61
Winthrop 76, Jacksonville State 79 OT
Bethel 66, Murray State 102
The Need To Know
UT Martin’s offense no longer runs through Myles Taylor — and that’s scary.
For three years, the Skyhawks fortunes rose and fell with the big man. Tonight, Taylor was a perfect 4-4 from the field…and finished with the fewest points among UT Martin starters in a strong win on the road at Northern Kentucky. Marshun Newell had a double-double, and the Skyhawks starters combined to shoot 56% from the field. When Taylor can be the fifth best player on the floor, and UT Martin roll, you start to understand how this team is so much different than the last few years.
Tennessee Tech still partying like it’s 1978
…and that’s a good thing. Dwan Caldwell dominates inside, scoring 31 points and pulling down 10 rebounds, and the Golden Eagles beat Lipscomb despite TTU shooting just 5-20 from three-point range. TTU has shot better than 30% from three-point range just once all year, but they’re 4-3, thanks to one of the best frontcourt combos in the OVC right now.
(for those who don’t entirely understand the headline: the three-point line didn’t exist in 1978 in college basketball)
EKU isn’t going to win many big games without a big night from Walden
Corey Walden finishes the game with 13 points, but 10 came in the final few minutes, with the Crusaders out of reach. EKU stayed in the game into the second half despite Walden not hitting a shot from the field in the first 35 minutes, until a long scoring drought around the mid-point of the second half. Earlier this year, we opined whether anyone would step up to help Walden. Timmy Knipp has a solid night tonight, but the Colonels still rely on one scorer, and their defense is still reliant on forcing turnovers (16 tonight) to get stops. (Valpo shot 49% from the floor, 52% from three-point range.)
Eastern Illinois overcomes NSFW first half
The Panthers score just 18 first-half points, but their defense was on point all night in a win over Ball State. The Cardinals held to 30.4% shooting, and EIU wakes up with a 43-point second half. Chris Olivier once again comes off the bench, (I have no idea what’s happening here) to lead EIU with 16 points.
SIUE, where the E stands for…eeek.
The final score is more flattering to the Cougars than the actual game was. Big brother took SIUE outside, and shoved him face first into the sandbox. Anthony Beane nearly outscored SIUE by himself in the first half, and a late run makes it seem respectable on paper. Rozell Nunn was not sharp in his return to the lineup for the Cougars. Looking for positives? 10 blocks by the Cougars, and a solid night at the charity stripe. (71.4%)
No visual evidence JSU wins fifth straight
…and does so in exciting fashion. After trailing much of the second half, Winthrop pushed the game to overtime. In the extra frame, Keon Johnson made just one of two free-throws with 11 seconds left to tie the game for the Eagles, but JSU’s JaQuail Townser hits a game-winning three out of a timeout to give the Gamecocks their fifth straight win.
At least, that’s what ESPN’s play-by-play tells me happened.
Murray State beats an NAIA opponent
A nice, relaxing evening at the Bank where Murray couldn’t miss.
The Top 3
01Dwan Caldwell, Tennessee Tech
You know those color commentary guys who like to talk about “grown men” on the court? Caldwell is a grown man. 11-18 from the field, got to the free-throw line, pulled down rebounds, and just because he could, hit a three-point shot. Caldwell was averaging just north of 10-points per game heading into this one. That average is about to jump, a bit.
02The UT Martin starting five.
I don’t really want to pick one, so I’ll pick them all. With the exception of Taylor, who was 4-4 with eight points, the rest of the starters all play 31+ minutes, and all finish with double-digit scoring in their win at Northern Kentucky. The Skyhawks defense wasn’t shabby either, holding NKU to 42% shooting, and 4-19 from three.
03JaQuill Townser, Jacksonville State
It’s a rule: you hit a buzzer-beater, you get into “The Top 3” no questions asked. The other 21 points along the way? Just gravy. Four three’s on the night for JSU’s guard, in what is likely their best win of the current five-game winning streak.
The Closing Thought
I’m still not certain where I’d put UT Martin in the OVC West right now. Murray is more flawed than we expected, Southeast Missouri is good when not shooting free-throws, and while UT Martin is winning, they haven’t beaten top-200 teams, and their defense has been a bit of a struggle. Eastern Illinois just always seems to find a way, also, when conference play rolls around, at least under Jay Spoonhour.
That may be the state of the West this year. A three (maybe four) way race. No one looks amazing or unbeatable, but those four teams all look like they could be a 10-win conference team if things fall right. The East still has Belmont, who still look like Belmont, but this may be the year the West rises as a whole and is more competitive against the other division.